Private hire drivers who 'pirate' for fares in Glasgow are set to be targeted by a mystery shopper scheme following a decision by the city council's Licensing and Regulatory Committee.
Under the terms of their licence, private hire cars can only pick-up passengers through a pre-arranged booking, usually via a telephone call to a booking office.
Only taxi drivers, those who drive 'black cabs', can legitimately respond to being hailed in the street by a member of the public, or use an official taxi rank.
However, substantial evidence exists about the prevalence of private hire drivers randomly picking up passengers in the street without pre-booking, which creates a significant risk to passenger safety.
No central record of these journeys will exist, and such drivers will invalidate their insurance, which exposes both passengers and companies in the event of an accident. There is also considerable anecdotal evidence that drivers who pirate for fares will overcharge passengers, sometimes up to four times greater than the official rate.
In the first six months of this year, over half of the complaints about private hire drivers that were considered by the Licensing and Regulatory Committee related to pirating. In all cases this led to drivers having their licences suspended, sometimes for up to six months at a time for repeat offenders.
Councillor Frank Docherty, Chair of the Licensing and Regulatory Committee, expressed his concern that the message that pirating is unacceptable is not getting through to drivers. He believes the pirate drivers are a scourge that needs to be driven off the road.
Councillor Docherty said: "Pirate drivers put passenger safety at risk. Like the pirates of old, these drivers are only interested in making a quick buck and to hell with the consequences.
"The council has a very active taxi enforcement team, but they can't be everywhere all at once. Unfortunately the drivers who end up in front of the committee may only be the tip of the iceberg.
"Pirate hire drivers will now be forced to think twice about who they are letting into their car. Do pirate drivers really want to take the chance they're actually taking a trip straight to the Licensing Committee and months out of work?
"Introducing the mystery shopper scheme will protect both passengers and the legitimate drivers who play fairly and squarely by the rules."
Police Scotland told the committee there were incidents involving unlicensed journeys that had led to incidents where passengers had complained of substantial fraud or even sexual assault.
Of the 36 complaints against drivers that were taken to the committee between January and June this year, 21 related to pirate drivers. A total of 301 complaints were made to the council's taxi enforcement team in that time, a substantial proportion which related to pirating.
If successful in targeting pirate drivers, the mystery shopper scheme may be extended to establish to deal with other issues such as the standard of service for disabled people, identifying drivers who do not use meters to calculate fares and other issues that highlight a failure to comply with licence conditions.
The proposal for a mystery shopper scheme was passed unanimously at the meeting of the Licensing and Regulatory Committee on Thursday, August 18.